Freshwater Update: A last-minute postponement

The hearing on the termination of employment of Mt. Vernon Middle School science teacher John Freshwater was scheduled to resume today, July 24. However, after an hour-long conference this morning among the attorneys and referee, the hearing did not resume and will not resume until sometime on or after September 10, 2009. It seems that the Ohio Revised Code provides that in such a hearing, the subject of the hearing, in this case Freshwater, can elect to not have hearing days scheduled when the schools are not in session, and through his attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, that choice was made today. In interviews after the aborted hearing Hamilton made it clear that it was his decision as Freshwater’s attorney, not Freshwater’s.

Hamilton said he intends to file a writ of mandamus with the Ohio Supreme Court to compel the Board to issue subpoenas for two Board of Education members, Jody Goetzman and Ian Watson, to testify. He had previously requested that they be subpoenaed, but the Board of Education (the issuing body for subpoenas for the hearing) quashed the subpoenas and the Knox County Court of Common Pleas declined to enforce the (non-existent because they were quashed) subpoenas. See here for that story.

A writ of mandamus is a high priority item for the State Supreme Court – it goes to the head of the queue on the Court’s docket – but the Court is on summer recess now so it’s hard to know when the Court will rule on Hamilton’s motion, which is not yet filed.

More below the fold.

It’s of some interest that Hamilton informed the hearing referee of his intention to delay the hearing on Tuesday of this week, but it was not acted on until this morning after a bunch of attorneys, a prospective witness, and a (very small) gallery of spectators and media had assembled in the hearing room this morning. That it was a last-minute affair is consistent with Hamilton’s apparent strategy to delay, delay, and delay some more in order to bring pressure on the Board of Education to settle on Freshwater’s terms. Hamilton mentioned his intention to appeal the Common Pleas Court’s ruling two weeks ago on July 11, 2009, in a radio interview. So there was no need to bring all these attorneys to Mt. Vernon this morning only to announce that Freshwater would choose to postpone it until September.

In the radio interview linked above Don Matolyak, Freshwater’s pastor, complained about the cost of the hearing to the school district and the hours that Freshwater’s attorney has put in, explictly coupling the latter with comments about Freshwater’s terms for a settlement. In my view, Freshwater and his attorney have been a primary cause of that cost. Just this morning five attorneys spent billable hours because Hamilton delayed the request to postpone the hearing until the last minute.

In comments after the postponement, David Millstone, the Board of Education’s attorney, said that he wouldn’t speculate on Hamilton’s motives for requesting the postponement, but that the Board was eager to conclude the hearing expeditiously and regretted the delay. He said that calling the Board members to testify was inappropriate because they have no first-hand knowledge of the matters that are the subject of the hearing, Freshwater’s behavior in a variety of school contexts. He said also that the Board members will have to make a decision on the referee’s recommendation. They initiated the process that will lead (sometime this decade, I hope!) to a recommendation from the referee and will then have to act on the recommendation. However, they were not themselves parties to or observers of the acts that led to the initiation of termination proceedings and hence their testimony is inappropriate.

However, Freshwater (and/or Hamilton) has a conspiracy theory to the effect that his 2003 effort to introduce Jonathan Wells’ crap into the school science curriculum put a target on him, “branded” him, in his own words in the interview linked above. Apparently someone – the Board, the administration, someone – has held a grudge against him for that, and the termination proceedings six years later are the result of that grudge. It’s of some interest that there are only two people in authority in the school during his termination proceedings who were also in their positions during the 2003 incident. They are Lynda Weston, who was Director of Teaching and Learning from 2000 to 2008, when she retired, and Dr. Margie Bennett, an administrator at the Mt. Vernon Nazarene University and the only Board member during the 2003 incident who is still on the Board now. So if Freshwater is right and administrators and Board members have been conspiring since 2003 to get rid of him, it’s Weston and Bennett who must be the culprits. I don’t think John has thought this through very carefully. Bennett in particular has taken significant pressure from her co-religionists in this matter both in 2003 and now, and I admire her ability to think about her responsibilities to the schools in spite of that pressure. She has done a good job for the schools for years.